The Coral Island A Tale of the Pacific Ocean
Part 4 out of 6
rowed round the point at the Water Garden, and came rapidly towards
us. "Now, go, make a fire on that point; and hark'ee, youngster,
if you try to run away, I'll send a quick and sure messenger after
you," and he pointed significantly at his pistols.
I obeyed in silence, and as I happened to have the burning-glass in
my pocket, a fire was speedily kindled, and a thick smoke ascended
into the air. It had scarcely appeared for two minutes when the
boom of a gun rolled over the sea, and, looking up, I saw that the
schooner was making for the island again. It now flashed across me
that this was a ruse on the part of the pirates, and that they had
sent their vessel away, knowing that it would lead us to suppose
that they had left altogether. But there was no use of regret now.
I was completely in their power, so I stood helplessly beside the
pirate watching the crew of the boat as they landed on the beach.
For an instant I contemplated rushing over the cliff into the sea,
but this I saw I could not now accomplish, as some of the men were
already between me and the water.
There was a good deal of jesting at the success of their scheme, as
the crew ascended the rocks and addressed the man who had captured
me by the title of captain. They were a ferocious set of men, with
shaggy beards and scowling brows. All of them were armed with
cutlasses and pistols, and their costumes were, with trifling
variations, similar to that of the captain. As I looked from one
to the other, and observed the low, scowling brows, that never
unbent, even when the men laughed, and the mean, rascally
expression that sat on each face, I felt that my life hung by a
"But where are the other cubs?" cried one of the men, with an oath
that made me shudder. "I'll swear to it there were three, at
least, if not more."
"You hear what he says, whelp; where are the other dogs?" said the
"If you mean my companions," said I, in a low voice, "I won't tell
A loud laugh burst from the crew at this answer.
The pirate captain looked at me in surprise. Then drawing a pistol
from his belt, he cocked it and said, "Now, youngster, listen to
me. I've no time to waste here. If you don't tell me all you
know, I'll blow your brains out! Where are your comrades?"
For an instant I hesitated, not knowing what to do in this
extremity. Suddenly a thought occurred to me.
"Villain," said I, shaking my clenched fist in his face, "to blow
my brains out would make short work of me, and be soon over. Death
by drowning is as sure, and the agony prolonged, yet, I tell you to
your face, if you were to toss me over yonder cliff into the sea, I
would not tell you where my companions are, and I dare you to try
The pirate captain grew white with rage as I spoke. "Say you so?"
cried he, uttering a fierce oath. "Here, lads, take him by the
legs and heave him in, - quick!"
The men, who were utterly silenced with surprise at my audacity,
advanced, and seized me, and, as they carried me towards the cliff,
I congratulated myself not a little on the success of my scheme,
for I knew that once in the water I should be safe, and could
rejoin Jack and Peterkin in the cave. But my hopes were suddenly
blasted by the captain crying out, "Hold on, lads, hold on. We'll
give him a taste of the thumb-screws before throwing him to the
sharks. Away with him into the boat. Look alive! the breeze is
The men instantly raised me shoulder high, and, hurrying down the
rocks, tossed me into the bottom of the boat, where I lay for some
time stunned with the violence of my fall.
On recovering sufficiently to raise myself on my elbow, I perceived
that we were already outside the coral reef, and close alongside
the schooner, which was of small size and clipper built. I had
only time to observe this much, when I received a severe kick on
the side from one of the men, who ordered me, in a rough voice, to
jump aboard. Rising hastily I clambered up the side. In a few
minutes the boat was hoisted on deck, the vessel's head put close
to the wind, and the Coral Island dropped slowly astern as we beat
up against a head sea.
Immediately after coming aboard, the crew were too busily engaged
in working the ship and getting in the boat to attend to me, so I
remained leaning against the bulwarks close to the gangway,
watching their operations. I was surprised to find that there were
no guns or carronades of any kind in the vessel, which had more of
the appearance of a fast-sailing trader than a pirate. But I was
struck with the neatness of everything. The brass work of the
binnacle and about the tiller, as well as the copper belaying-pins,
were as brightly polished as if they had just come from the
foundry. The decks were pure white, and smooth. The masts were
clean-scraped and varnished, except at the cross-trees and truck,
which were painted black. The standing and running rigging was in
the most perfect order, and the sails white as snow. In short,
everything, from the single narrow red stripe on her low black hull
to the trucks on her tapering masts, evinced an amount of care and
strict discipline that would have done credit to a ship of the
Royal Navy. There was nothing lumbering or unseemly about the
vessel, excepting, perhaps, a boat, which lay on the deck with its
keel up between the fore and main masts. It seemed
disproportionately large for the schooner; but, when I saw that the
crew amounted to between thirty and forty men, I concluded that
this boat was held in reserve, in case of any accident compelling
the crew to desert the vessel.
As I have before said, the costumes of the men were similar to that
of the captain. But in head gear they differed not only from him
but from each other, some wearing the ordinary straw hat of the
merchant service, while others wore cloth caps and red worsted
night-caps. I observed that all their arms were sent below; the
captain only retaining his cutlass and a single pistol in the folds
of his shawl. Although the captain was the tallest and most
powerful man in the ship, he did not strikingly excel many of his
men in this respect, and the only difference that an ordinary
observer would have noticed was, a certain degree of open candour,
straightforward daring, in the bold, ferocious expression of his
face, which rendered him less repulsive than his low-browed
associates, but did not by any means induce the belief that he was
a hero. This look was, however, the indication of that spirit
which gave him the pre-eminence among the crew of desperadoes who
called him captain. He was a lion-like villain; totally devoid of
personal fear, and utterly reckless of consequences, and,
therefore, a terror to his men, who individually hated him, but
unitedly felt it to be their advantage to have him at their head.
But my thoughts soon reverted to the dear companions whom I had
left on shore, and as I turned towards the Coral Island, which was
now far away to leeward, I sighed deeply, and the tears rolled
slowly down my cheeks as I thought that I might never see them
"So you're blubbering, are you, you obstinate whelp?" said the deep
voice of the captain, as he came up and gave me a box on the ear
that nearly felled me to the deck. "I don't allow any such
weakness aboard o' this ship. So clap a stopper on your eyes or
I'll give you something to cry for."
I flushed with indignation at this rough and cruel treatment, but
felt that giving way to anger would only make matters worse, so I
made no reply, but took out my handkerchief and dried my eyes.
"I thought you were made of better stuff," continued the captain,
angrily; "I'd rather have a mad bull-dog aboard than a water-eyed
puppy. But I'll cure you, lad, or introduce you to the sharks
before long. Now go below, and stay there till I call you."
As I walked forward to obey, my eye fell on a small keg standing by
the side of the main-mast, on which the word GUNPOWDER was written
in pencil. It immediately flashed across me that, as we were
beating up against the wind, anything floating in the sea would be
driven on the reef encircling the Coral Island. I also recollected
- for thought is more rapid than the lightning - that my old
companions had a pistol. Without a moment's hesitation, therefore,
I lifted the keg from the deck and tossed it into the sea! An
exclamation of surprise burst from the captain and some of the men
who witnessed this act of mine.
Striding up to me, and uttering fearful imprecations, the captain
raised his hand to strike me, while he shouted, "Boy! whelp! what
mean you by that?"
"If you lower your hand," said I, in a loud voice, while I felt the
blood rush to my temples, "I'll tell you. Until you do so I'm
The captain stepped back and regarded me with a look of amazement.
"Now," continued I, "I threw that keg into the sea because the wind
and waves will carry it to my friends on the Coral Island, who
happen to have a pistol, but no powder. I hope that it will reach
them soon, and my only regret is that the keg was not a bigger one.
Moreover, pirate, you said just now that you thought I was made of
better stuff! I don't know what stuff I am made of, - I never
thought much about that subject; but I'm quite certain of this,
that I am made of such stuff as the like of you shall never tame,
though you should do your worst."
To my surprise the captain, instead of flying into a rage, smiled,
and, thrusting his hand into the voluminous shawl that encircled
his waist, turned on his heel and walked aft, while I went below.
Here, instead of being rudely handled, as I had expected, the men
received me with a shout of laughter, and one of them, patting me
on the back, said, "Well done, lad! you're a brick, and I have no
doubt will turn out a rare cove. Bloody Bill, there, was just such
a fellow as you are, and he's now the biggest cut-throat of us
"Take a can of beer, lad," cried another, "and wet your whistle
after that speech o' your'n to the captain. If any one o' us had
made it, youngster, he would have had no whistle to wet by this
"Stop your clapper, Jack," vociferated a third; "give the boy a
junck o' meat. Don't you see he's a'most goin' to kick the
"And no wonder," said the first speaker, with an oath, "after the
tumble you gave him into the boat. I guess it would have broke
YOUR neck if you had got it."
I did indeed feel somewhat faint; which was owing, doubtless, to
the combined effects of ill-usage and hunger; for it will be
recollected that I had dived out of the cave that morning before
breakfast, and it was now near mid-day. I therefore gladly
accepted a plate of boiled pork and a yam, which were handed to me
by one of the men from the locker on which some of the crew were
seated eating their dinner. But I must add that the zest with
which I ate my meal was much abated in consequence of the frightful
oaths and the terrible language that flowed from the lips of these
godless men, even in the midst of their hilarity and good-humour.
The man who had been alluded to as Bloody Bill was seated near me,
and I could not help wondering at the moody silence he maintained
among his comrades. He did indeed reply to their questions in a
careless, off-hand tone, but he never volunteered a remark. The
only difference between him and the others was his taciturnity and
his size, for he was nearly, if not quite, as large a man as the
During the remainder of the afternoon I was left to my own
reflections, which were anything but agreeable, for I could not
banish from my mind the threat about the thumb-screws, of the
nature and use of which I had a vague but terrible conception. I
was still meditating on my unhappy fate when, just after night-
fall, one of the watch on deck called down the hatchway, -
"Hallo there! one o' you, tumble up and light the cabin lamp, and
send that boy aft to the captain - sharp!"
"Now then, do you hear, youngster? the captain wants you. Look
alive," said Bloody Bill, raising his huge frame from the locker on
which he had been asleep for the last two hours. He sprang up the
ladder and I instantly followed him, and, going aft, was shown into
the cabin by one of the men, who closed the door after me.
A small silver lamp which hung from a beam threw a dim soft light
over the cabin, which was a small apartment, and comfortably but
plainly finished. Seated on a camp-stool at the table, and busily
engaged in examining a chart of the Pacific, was the captain, who
looked up as I entered, and, in a quiet voice, bade me be seated,
while he threw down his pencil, and, rising from the table,
stretched himself on a sofa at the upper end of the cabin.
"Boy," said he, looking me full in the face, "what is your name?"
"Ralph Rover," I replied.
"Where did you come from, and how came you to be on that island?
How many companions had you on it? Answer me, now, and mind you
tell no lies."
"I never tell lies," said I, firmly.
The captain received this reply with a cold sarcastic smile, and
bade me answer his questions.
I then told him the history of myself and my companions from the
time we sailed till the day of his visit to the island, taking
care, however, to make no mention of the Diamond Cave. After I had
concluded, he was silent for a few minutes; then, looking up, he
said - "Boy, I believe you."
I was surprised at this remark, for I could not imagine why he
should not believe me. However, I made no reply.
"And what," continued the captain, "makes you think that this
schooner is a pirate?"
"The black flag," said I, "showed me what you are; and if any
further proof were wanting I have had it in the brutal treatment I
have received at your hands."
The captain frowned as I spoke, but subduing his anger he continued
- "Boy, you are too bold. I admit that we treated you roughly, but
that was because you made us lose time and gave us a good deal of
trouble. As to the black flag, that is merely a joke that my
fellows play off upon people sometimes in order to frighten them.
It is their humour, and does no harm. I am no pirate, boy, but a
lawful trader, - a rough one, I grant you, but one can't help that
in these seas, where there are so many pirates on the water and
such murderous blackguards on the land. I carry on a trade in
sandal-wood with the Feejee Islands; and if you choose, Ralph, to
behave yourself and be a good boy, I'll take you along with me and
give you a good share of the profits. You see I'm in want of an
honest boy like you, to look after the cabin and keep the log, and
superintend the traffic on shore sometimes. What say you, Ralph,
would you like to become a sandal-wood trader?"
I was much surprised by this explanation, and a good deal relieved
to find that the vessel, after all, was not a pirate; but instead
of replying I said, "If it be as you state, then why did you take
me from my island, and why do you not now take me back?"
The captain smiled as he replied, "I took you off in anger, boy,
and I'm sorry for it. I would even now take you back, but we are
too far away from it. See, there it is," he added, laying his
finger on the chart, "and we are now here, - fifty miles at least.
It would not be fair to my men to put about now, for they have all
an interest in the trade."
I could make no reply to this; so, after a little more
conversation, I agreed to become one of the crew, at least until we
could reach some civilized island where I might be put ashore. The
captain assented to this proposition, and after thanking him for
the promise, I left the cabin and went on deck with feelings that
ought to have been lighter, but which were, I could not tell why,
marvellously heavy and uncomfortable still.
Bloody Bill - Dark surmises - A strange sail, and a strange crew,
and a still stranger cargo - New reasons for favouring missionaries
- A murderous massacre, and thoughts thereon.
THREE weeks after the conversation narrated in the last chapter, I
was standing on the quarter-deck of the schooner watching the
gambols of a shoal of porpoises that swam round us. It was a dead
calm. One of those still, hot, sweltering days, so common in the
Pacific, when Nature seems to have gone to sleep, and the only
thing in water or in air that proves her still alive, is her long,
deep breathing, in the swell of the mighty sea. No cloud floated
in the deep blue above; no ripple broke the reflected blue below.
The sun shone fiercely in the sky, and a ball of fire blazed, with
almost equal power, from out the bosom of the water. So intensely
still was it, and so perfectly transparent was the surface of the
deep, that had it not been for the long swell already alluded to,
we might have believed the surrounding universe to be a huge blue
liquid ball, and our little ship the one solitary material speck in
all creation, floating in the midst of it.
No sound broke on our ears save the soft puff now and then of a
porpoise, the slow creak of the masts, as we swayed gently on the
swell, the patter of the reef-points, and the occasional flap of
the hanging sails. An awning covered the fore and after parts of
the schooner, under which the men composing the watch on deck
lolled in sleepy indolence, overcome with excessive heat. Bloody
Bill, as the men invariably called him, was standing at the tiller,
but his post for the present was a sinecure, and he whiled away the
time by alternately gazing in dreamy abstraction at the compass in
the binnacle, and by walking to the taffrail in order to spit into
the sea. In one of these turns he came near to where I was
standing, and, leaning over the side, looked long and earnestly
down into the blue wave.
This man, although he was always taciturn and often surly, was the
only human being on board with whom I had the slightest desire to
become better acquainted. The other men, seeing that I did not
relish their company, and knowing that I was a protege of the
captain, treated me with total indifference. Bloody Bill, it is
true, did the same; but as this was his conduct towards every one
else, it was not peculiar in reference to me. Once or twice I
tried to draw him into conversation, but he always turned away
after a few cold monosyllables. As he now leaned over the taffrail
close beside me, I said to him, -
"Bill, why is it that you are so gloomy? Why do you never speak to
Bill smiled slightly as he replied, "Why, I s'pose it's because I
haint got nothin' to say!"
"That's strange," said I, musingly; "you look like a man that could
think, and such men can usually speak."
"So they can, youngster," rejoined Bill, somewhat sternly; "and I
could speak too if I had a mind to, but what's the use o' speakin'
here! The men only open their mouths to curse and swear, an' they
seem to find it entertaining; but I don't, so I hold my tongue."
"Well, Bill, that's true, and I would rather not hear you speak at
all than hear you speak like the other men; but I don't swear,
Bill, so you might talk to me sometimes, I think. Besides, I'm
weary of spending day after day in this way, without a single soul
to say a pleasant word to. I've been used to friendly
conversation, Bill, and I really would take it kind if you would
talk with me a little now and then."
Bill looked at me in surprise, and I thought I observed a sad
expression pass across his sun-burnt face.
"An' where have you been used to friendly conversation," said Bill,
looking down again into the sea; "not on that Coral Island, I take
"Yes, indeed," said I energetically; "I have spent many of the
happiest months in my life on that Coral Island;" and without
waiting to be further questioned, I launched out into a glowing
account of the happy life that Jack and Peterkin and I had spent
together, and related minutely every circumstance that befell us
while on the island.
"Boy, boy," said Bill, in a voice so deep that it startled me,
"this is no place for you."
"That's true," said I; "I'm of little use on board, and I don't
like my comrades; but I can't help it, and at anyrate I hope to be
free again soon."
"Free?" said Bill, looking at me in surprise.
"Yes, free," returned I; "the captain said he would put me ashore
after this trip was over."
"THIS TRIP! Hark'ee, boy," said Bill, lowering his voice, "what
said the captain to you the day you came aboard?"
"He said that he was a trader in sandal-wood and no pirate, and
told me that if I would join him for this trip he would give me a
good share of the profits or put me on shore in some civilized
island if I chose."
Bill's brows lowered savagely as he muttered, "Ay, he said truth
when he told you he was a sandal-wood trader, but he lied when - "
"Sail ho!" shouted the look-out at the masthead.
"Where, away?" cried Bill, springing to the tiller; while the men,
startled by the sudden cry jumped up and gazed round the horizon.
"On the starboard quarter, hull down, sir," answered the look-out.
At this moment the captain came on deck, and mounting into the
rigging, surveyed the sail through the glass. Then sweeping his
eye round the horizon he gazed steadily at a particular point.
"Take in top-sails," shouted the captain, swinging himself down on
the deck by the main-back stay.
"Take in top-sails," roared the first mate.
"Ay, ay, sir-r-r," answered the men as they sprang into the rigging
and went aloft like cats.
Instantly all was bustle on board the hitherto quiet schooner. The
top-sails were taken in and stowed, the men stood by the sheets and
halyards, and the captain gazed anxiously at the breeze which was
now rushing towards us like a sheet of dark blue. In a few seconds
it struck us. The schooner trembled as if in surprise at the
sudden onset, while she fell away, then bending gracefully to the
wind, as though in acknowledgment of her subjection, she cut
through the waves with her sharp prow like a dolphin, while Bill
directed her course towards the strange sail.
In half an hour we neared her sufficiently to make out that she was
a schooner, and, from the clumsy appearance of her masts and sails
we judged her to be a trader. She evidently did not like our
appearance, for, the instant the breeze reached her, she crowded
all sail and showed us her stern. As the breeze had moderated a
little our top-sails were again shaken out, and it soon became
evident, - despite the proverb, "A stern chase is a long one," that
we doubled her speed and would overhaul her speedily. When within
a mile we hoisted British colours, but receiving no acknowledgment,
the captain ordered a shot to be fired across her bows. In a
moment, to my surprise, a large portion of the bottom of the boat
amidships was removed, and in the hole thus exposed appeared an
immense brass gun. It worked on a swivel and was elevated by means
of machinery. It was quickly loaded and fired. The heavy ball
struck the water a few yards ahead of the chase, and, ricochetting
into the air, plunged into the sea a mile beyond it.
This produced the desired effect. The strange vessel backed her
top-sails and hove-to, while we ranged up and lay-to, about a
hundred yards off.
"Lower the boat," cried the captain.
In a second the boat was lowered and manned by a part of the crew,
who were all armed with cutlasses and pistols. As the captain
passed me to get into it, he said, "jump into the stern sheets,
Ralph, I may want you." I obeyed, and in ten minutes more we were
standing on the stranger's deck. We were all much surprised at the
sight that met our eyes. Instead of a crew of such sailors as we
were accustomed to see, there were only fifteen blacks standing on
the quarter-deck and regarding us with looks of undisguised alarm.
They were totally unarmed and most of them unclothed; one or two,
however, wore portions of European attire. One had on a pair of
duck trousers which were much too large for him and stuck out in a
most ungainly manner. Another wore nothing but the common scanty
native garment round the loins, and a black beaver hat. But the
most ludicrous personage of all, and one who seemed to be chief,
was a tall middle-aged man, of a mild, simple expression of
countenance, who wore a white cotton shirt, a swallow-tailed coat,
and a straw hat, while his black brawny legs were totally uncovered
below the knees.
"Where's the commander of this ship?" inquired our captain,
stepping up to this individual.
"I is capin," he answered, taking off his straw hat and making a
"You!" said our captain, in surprise. "Where do you come from, and
where are you bound? What cargo have you aboard?"
"We is come," answered the man with the swallow-tail, "from
Aitutaki; we was go for Rarotonga. We is native miss'nary ship;
our name is de OLIVE BRANCH; an' our cargo is two tons cocoa-nuts,
seventy pigs, twenty cats, and de Gosp'l."
This announcement was received by the crew of our vessel with a
shout of laughter, which, however, was peremptorily checked by the
captain, whose expression instantly changed from one of severity to
that of frank urbanity as he advanced towards the missionary and
shook him warmly by the hand.
"I am very glad to have fallen in with you," said he, "and I wish
you much success in your missionary labours. Pray take me to your
cabin, as I wish to converse with you privately."
The missionary immediately took him by the hand, and as he led him
away I heard him saying, "Me most glad to find you trader; we
t'ought you be pirate. You very like one 'bout the masts."
What conversation the captain had with this man I never heard, but
he came on deck again in a quarter of an hour, and, shaking hands
cordially with the missionary, ordered us into our boat and
returned to the schooner, which was immediately put before the
wind. In a few minutes the OLIVE BRANCH was left far behind us.
That afternoon, as I was down below at dinner, I heard the men
talking about this curious ship.
"I wonder," said one, "why our captain looked so sweet on yon
swallow-tailed super-cargo o' pigs and Gospels. If it had been an
ordinary trader, now, he would have taken as many o' the pigs as he
required and sent the ship with all on board to the bottom."
"Why, Dick, you must be new to these seas if you don't know that,"
cried another. "The captain cares as much for the gospel as you do
(an' that's precious little), but he knows, and everybody knows,
that the only place among the southern islands where a ship can put
in and get what she wants in comfort, is where the gospel has been
sent to. There are hundreds o' islands, at this blessed moment,
where you might as well jump straight into a shark's maw as land
without a band o' thirty comrades armed to the teeth to back you."
"Ay," said a man with a deep scar over his right eye, "Dick's new
to the work. But if the captain takes us for a cargo o' sandal-
wood to the Feejees he'll get a taste o' these black gentry in
their native condition. For my part I don't know, an' I don't
care, what the gospel does to them; but I know that when any o' the
islands chance to get it, trade goes all smooth an' easy; but where
they ha'nt got it, Beelzebub himself could hardly desire better
"Well, you ought to be a good judge," cried another, laughing, "for
you've never kept any company but the worst all your life!"
"Ralph Rover!" shouted a voice down the hatchway. "Captain wants
Springing up the ladder I hastened to the cabin, pondering as I
went the strange testimony borne by these men to the effect of the
gospel on savage natures; - testimony which, as it was perfectly
disinterested, I had no doubt whatever was strictly true.
On coming again on deck I found Bloody Bill at the helm, and as we
were alone together I tried to draw him into conversation. After
repeating to him the conversation in the forecastle about the
missionaries, I said, -
"Tell me, Bill, is this schooner really a trader in sandal-wood?"
"Yes, Ralph, she is; but she's just as really a pirate. The black
flag you saw flying at the peak was no deception."
"Then how can you say she's a trader?" asked I.
"Why, as to that, she trades when she can't take by force, but she
takes by force, when she can, in preference. Ralph," he added,
lowering his voice, "if you had seen the bloody deeds that I have
witnessed done on these decks you would not need to ask if we were
pirates. But you'll find it out soon enough. As for the
missionaries, the captain favours them because they are useful to
him. The South-Sea islanders are such incarnate fiends that they
are the better of being tamed, and the missionaries are the only
men who can do it."
Our track after this lay through several clusters of small islets,
among which we were becalmed more than once. During this part of
our voyage the watch on deck and the look-out at the mast-head were
more than usually vigilant, as we were not only in danger of being
attacked by the natives, who, I learned from the captain's remarks,
were a bloody and deceitful tribe at this group, but we were also
exposed to much risk from the multitudes of coral reefs that rose
up in the channels between the islands, some of them just above the
surface, others a few feet below it. Our precautions against the
savages I found were indeed necessary.
One day we were becalmed among a group of small islands, most of
which appeared to be uninhabited. As we were in want of fresh
water the captain sent the boat ashore to bring off a cask or two.
But we were mistaken in thinking there were no natives; for
scarcely had we drawn near to the shore when a band of naked blacks
rushed out of the bush and assembled on the beach, brandishing
their clubs and spears in a threatening manner. Our men were well
armed, but refrained from showing any signs of hostility, and rowed
nearer in order to converse with the natives; and I now found that
more than one of the crew could imperfectly speak dialects of the
language peculiar to the South Sea islanders. When within forty
yards of the shore, we ceased rowing, and the first mate stood up
to address the multitude; but, instead of answering us, they
replied with a shower of stones, some of which cut the men
severely. Instantly our muskets were levelled, and a volley was
about to be fired, when the captain hailed us in a loud voice from
the schooner, which lay not more than five or six hundred yards off
"Don't fire," he shouted, angrily. "Pull off to the point ahead of
The men looked surprised at this order, and uttered deep curses as
they prepared to obey, for their wrath was roused and they burned
for revenge. Three or four of them hesitated, and seemed disposed
"Don't distress yourselves, lads," said the mate, while a bitter
smile curled his lip. "Obey orders. The captain's not the man to
take an insult tamely. If Long Tom does not speak presently I'll
give myself to the sharks."
The men smiled significantly as they pulled from the shore, which
was now crowded with a dense mass of savages, amounting, probably,
to five or six hundred. We had not rowed off above a couple of
hundred yards when a loud roar thundered over the sea, and the big
brass gun sent a withering shower of grape point blank into the
midst of the living mass, through which a wide lane was cut, while
a yell, the like of which I could not have imagined, burst from the
miserable survivors as they fled to the woods. Amongst the heaps
of dead that lay on the sand, just where they had fallen, I could
distinguish mutilated forms writhing in agony, while ever and anon
one and another rose convulsively from out the mass, endeavoured to
stagger towards the wood, and ere they had taken a few steps, fell
and wallowed on the bloody sand. My blood curdled within me as I
witnessed this frightful and wanton slaughter; but I had little
time to think, for the captain's deep voice came again over the
water towards us: "Pull ashore, lads, and fill your water casks."
The men obeyed in silence, and it seemed to me as if even their
hard hearts were shocked by the ruthless deed. On gaining the
mouth of the rivulet at which we intended to take in water, we
found it flowing with blood, for the greater part of those who were
slain had been standing on the banks of the stream, a short way
above its mouth. Many of the wretched creatures had fallen into
it, and we found one body, which had been carried down, jammed
between two rocks, with the staring eyeballs turned towards us and
his black hair waving in the ripples of the blood-red stream. No
one dared to oppose our landing now, so we carried our casks to a
pool above the murdered group, and having filled them, returned on
board. Fortunately a breeze sprang up soon afterwards and carried
us away from the dreadful spot; but it could not waft me away from
the memory of what I had seen.
"And this," thought I, gazing in horror at the captain, who, with a
quiet look of indifference, leaned upon the taffrail smoking a
cigar and contemplating the fertile green islets as they passed
like a lovely picture before our eyes - "this is the man who
favours the missionaries because they are useful to him and can
tame the savages better than any one else can do it!" Then I
wondered in my mind whether it were possible for any missionary to
Bloody Bill is communicative and sagacious - Unpleasant prospects -
Retrospective meditations interrupted by volcanic agency - The
pirates negotiate with a Feejee chief - Various etceteras that are
calculated to surprise and horrify.
IT was many days after the events just narrated ere I recovered a
little of my wonted spirits. I could not shake off the feeling for
a long time that I was in a frightful dream, and the sight of our
captain filled me with so much horror that I kept out of his way as
much as my duties about the cabin would permit. Fortunately he
took so little notice of me that he did not observe my changed
feelings towards him, otherwise it might have been worse for me.
But I was now resolved that I would run away the very first island
we should land at, and commit myself to the hospitality of the
natives rather than remain an hour longer than I could help in the
pirate schooner. I pondered this subject a good deal, and at last
made up my mind to communicate my intention to Bloody Bill; for,
during several talks I had had with him of late, I felt assured
that he too would willingly escape if possible. When I told him of
my design he shook his head. "No, no, Ralph," said he, "you must
not think of running away here. Among some of the groups of
islands you might do so with safety, but if you tried it here you
would find that you had jumped out of the fryin' pan into the
"How so, Bill?" said I, "would the natives not receive me?"
"That they would, lad; but they would eat you too."
"Eat me!" said I in surprise, "I thought the South Sea islanders
never ate anybody except their enemies."
"Humph!" ejaculated Bill. "I s'pose 'twas yer tender-hearted
friends in England that put that notion into your head. There's a
set o' soft-hearted folk at home that I knows on, who don't like to
have their feelin's ruffled, and when you tell them anything they
don't like - that shocks them, as they call it - no matter how true
it be, they stop their ears and cry out, 'Oh, that is TOO horrible!
We can't believe that!' An' they say truth. They can't believe it
'cause they won't believe it. Now, I believe there's thousands o'
the people in England who are sich born drivellin' WON'T-BELIEVERS
that they think the black fellows hereaway, at the worst, eat an
enemy only now an' then, out o' spite; whereas, I know for certain,
and many captains of the British and American navies know as well
as me, that the Feejee islanders eat not only their enemies but one
another; and they do it not for spite, but for pleasure. It's a
FACT that they prefer human flesh to any other. But they don't
like white men's flesh so well as black. They say it makes them
"Why, Bill," said I, "you told me just now that they would eat ME
if they caught me."
"So I did; and so I think they would. I've only heard some o' them
say they don't like white men SO WELL as black; but if they was
hungry they wouldn't be particular. Anyhow, I'm sure they would
kill you. You see, Ralph, I've been a good while in them parts,
and I've visited the different groups of islands oftentimes as a
trader. And thorough goin' blackguards some o' them traders are.
No better than pirates, I can tell you. One captain that I sailed
with was not a chip better than the one we're with now. He was
tradin' with a friendly chief one day, aboard his vessel. The
chief had swam off to us with the things for trade tied a-top of
his head, for them chaps are like otters in the water. Well, the
chief was hard on the captain, and would not part with some o' his
things. When their bargainin' was over they shook hands, and the
chief jumped over board to swim ashore; but before he got forty
yards from the ship the captain seized a musket and shot him dead.
He then hove up anchor and put to sea, and as we sailed along
shore, he dropped six black-fellows with his rifle, remarkin' that
'that would spoil the trade for the next comers.' But, as I was
sayin', I'm up to the ways o' these fellows. One o' the laws o'
the country is, that every shipwrecked person who happens to be
cast ashore, be he dead or alive, is doomed to be roasted and
eaten. There was a small tradin' schooner wrecked off one of these
islands when we were lyin' there in harbour during a storm. The
crew was lost, all but three men, who swam ashore. The moment they
landed they were seized by the natives and carried up into the
woods. We knew pretty well what their fate would be, but we could
not help them, for our crew was small, and if we had gone ashore
they would likely have killed us all. We never saw the three men
again; but we heard frightful yelling, and dancing, and merry-
making that night; and one of the natives, who came aboard to trade
with us next day, told us that the LONG PIGS, as he called the men,
had been roasted and eaten, and their bones were to be converted
into sail needles. He also said that white men were bad to eat,
and that most o' the people on shore were sick."
I was very much shocked and cast down in my mind at this terrible
account of the natives, and asked Bill what he would advise me to
do. Looking round the deck to make sure that we were not
overheard, he lowered his voice and said, "There are two or three
ways that we might escape, Ralph, but none o' them's easy. If the
captain would only sail for some o' the islands near Tahiti, we
might run away there well enough, because the natives are all
Christians; an' we find that wherever the savages take up with
Christianity they always give over their bloody ways, and are safe
to be trusted. I never cared for Christianity myself," he
continued, in a soliloquising voice, "and I don't well know what it
means; but a man with half an eye can see what it does for these
black critters. However, the captain always keeps a sharp look out
after us when we get to these islands, for he half suspects that
one or two o' us are tired of his company. Then, we might manage
to cut the boat adrift some fine night when it's our watch on deck,
and clear off before they discovered that we were gone. But we
would run the risk o' bein' caught by the blacks. I wouldn't like
to try that plan. But you and I will think over it, Ralph, and see
what's to be done. In the meantime it's our watch below, so I'll
go and turn in."
Bill then bade me good night, and went below, while a comrade took
his place at the helm; but, feeling no desire to enter into
conversation with him, I walked aft, and, leaning over the stern,
looked down into the phosphorescent waves that gargled around the
ladder, and streamed out like a flame of blue light in the vessel's
wake. My thoughts were very sad, and I could scarce refrain from
tears as I contrasted my present wretched position with the happy,
peaceful time, I had spent on the Coral Island with my dear
companions. As I thought upon Jack and Peterkin anxious
forebodings crossed my mind, and I pictured to myself the grief and
dismay with which they would search every nook and corner of the
island, in a vain attempt to discover my dead body; for I felt
assured that if they did not see any sign of the pirate schooner or
boat, when they came out of the cave to look for me, they would
never imagine that I had been carried away. I wondered, too, how
Jack would succeed in getting Peterkin out of the cave without my
assistance; and I trembled when I thought that he might lose
presence of mind, and begin to kick when he was in the tunnel!
These thoughts were suddenly interrupted and put to flight by a
bright red blaze which lighted up the horizon to the southward, and
cut a crimson glow far over the sea. This appearance was
accompanied by a low growling sound, as of distant thunder, and, at
the same time, the sky above us became black, while a hot stifling
wind blew around us in fitful gusts.
The crew assembled hastily on deck, and most of them were under the
belief that a frightful hurricane was pending; but the captain
coming on deck, soon explained the phenomena.
"It's only a volcano," said he. "I knew there was one hereabouts,
but thought it was extinct. Up there and furl top-gallant-sails;
we'll likely have a breeze, and it's well to be ready."
As he spoke, a shower began to fall, which we quickly observed was
not rain, but fine ashes. As we were many miles distant from the
volcano, these must have been carried to us from it by the wind.
As the captain had predicted, a stiff breeze soon afterwards sprang
up, under the influence of which we speedily left the volcano far
behind us; but during the greater part of the night we could see
its lurid glare and hear its distant thunder. The shower did not
cease to fall for several hours, and we must have sailed under it
for nearly forty miles, perhaps farther. When we emerged from the
cloud, our decks and every part of the rigging were completely
covered with a thick coat of ashes. I was much interested in this,
and recollected that Jack had often spoken of many of the islands
of the Pacific as being volcanoes, either active or extinct, and
had said that the whole region was more or less volcanic, and that
some scientific men were of opinion that the islands of the Pacific
were nothing more or less than the mountain tops of a huge
continent which had sunk under the influence of volcanic agency.
Three days after passing the volcano, we found ourselves a few
miles to windward of an island of considerable size and luxuriant
aspect. It consisted of two mountains, which seemed to be nearly
four thousand feet high. They were separated from each other by a
broad valley, whose thick-growing trees ascended a considerable
distance up the mountain sides; and rich level plains, or meadow-
land, spread round the base of the mountains, except at the point
immediately opposite the large valley, where a river seemed to
carry the trees, as it were, along with it down to the white sandy
shore. The mountain tops, unlike those of our Coral Island, were
sharp, needle-shaped, and bare, while their sides were more rugged
and grand in outline than anything I had yet seen in those seas.
Bloody Bill was beside me when the island first hove in sight.
"Ha!" he exclaimed, "I know that island well. They call it Emo."
"Have you been here before, then?" I inquired.
"Ay, that I have, often, and so has this schooner. 'Tis a famous
island for sandal-wood. We have taken many cargoes off it already,
and have paid for them too; for the savages are so numerous that we
dared not try to take it by force. But our captain has tried to
cheat them so often, that they're beginnin' not to like us overmuch
now. Besides, the men behaved ill the last time we were here; and
I wonder the captain is not afraid to venture. But he's afraid o'
nothing earthly, I believe."
We soon ran inside the barrier coral-reef, and let go our anchor in
six fathoms water, just opposite the mouth of a small creek, whose
shores were densely covered with mangroves and tall umbrageous
trees. The principal village of the natives lay about half a mile
from this point. Ordering the boat out, the captain jumped into
it, and ordered me to follow him. The men, fifteen in number, were
well armed; and the mate was directed to have Long Tom ready for
"Give way, lads," cried the captain.
The oars fell into the water at the word, the boat shot from the
schooner's side, and in a few minutes reached the shore. Here,
contrary to our expectation, we were met with the utmost cordiality
by Romata, the principal chief of the island, who conducted us to
his house, and gave us mats to sit upon. I observed in passing
that the natives, of whom there were two or three thousand, were
After a short preliminary palaver, a feast of baked pigs and
various roots was spread before us; of which we partook sparingly,
and then proceeded to business. The captain stated his object in
visiting the island, regretted that there had been a slight
misunderstanding during the last visit, and hoped that no ill-will
was borne by either party, and that a satisfactory trade would be
Romata answered that he had forgotten there had been any
differences between them, protested that he was delighted to see
his friends again, and assured them they should have every
assistance in cutting and embarking the wood. The terms were
afterwards agreed on, and we rose to depart. All this conversation
was afterwards explained to me by Bill, who understood the language
Romata accompanied us on board, and explained that a great chief
from another island was then on a visit to him, and that he was to
be ceremoniously entertained on the following day. After begging
to be allowed to introduce him to us, and receiving permission, he
sent his canoe ashore to bring him off. At the same time he gave
orders to bring on board his two favourites, a cock and a paroquet.
While the canoe was gone on this errand, I had time to regard the
savage chief attentively. He was a man of immense size, with
massive but beautifully moulded limbs and figure, only parts of
which, the broad chest and muscular arms, were uncovered; for,
although the lower orders generally wore no other clothing than a
strip of cloth called MARO round their loins, the chief, on
particular occasions, wrapped his person in voluminous folds of a
species of native cloth made from the bark of the Chinese paper-
mulberry. Romata wore a magnificent black beard and moustache, and
his hair was frizzed out to such an extent that it resembled a
large turban, in which was stuck a long wooden pin! I afterwards
found that this pin served for scratching the head, for which
purpose the fingers were too short without disarranging the hair.
But Romata put himself to much greater inconvenience on account of
his hair, for we found that he slept with his head resting on a
wooden pillow, in which was cut a hollow for the neck, so that the
hair of the sleeper might not be disarranged.
In ten minutes the canoe returned, bringing the other chief, who
certainly presented a most extraordinary appearance, having painted
one half of his face red and the other half yellow, besides
ornamenting it with various designs in black! Otherwise he was
much the same in appearance as Romata, though not so powerfully
built. As this chief had never seen a ship before, except,
perchance, some of the petty traders that at long intervals visit
these remote islands, he was much taken up with the neatness and
beauty of all the fittings of the schooner. He was particularly
struck with a musket which was shown to him, and asked where the
white men got hatchets hard enough to cut the tree of which the
barrel was made! While he was thus engaged, his brother chief
stood aloof, talking with the captain, and fondling a superb cock
and a little blue-headed paroquet, the favourites of which I have
before spoken. I observed that all the other natives walked in a
crouching posture while in the presence of Romata. Before our
guests left us, the captain ordered the brass gun to be uncovered
and fired for their gratification; and I have every reason to
believe he did so for the purpose of showing our superior power, in
case the natives should harbour any evil designs against us.
Romata had never seen this gun before, as it had not been uncovered
on previous visits, and the astonishment with which he viewed it
was very amusing. Being desirous of knowing its power, he begged
that the captain would fire it. So a shot was put into it. The
chiefs were then directed to look at a rock about two miles out at
sea, and the gun was fired. In a second the top of the rock was
seen to burst asunder, and to fall in fragments into the sea.
Romata was so delighted with the success of this shot, that he
pointed to a man who was walking on the shore, and begged the
captain to fire at him, evidently supposing that his permission was
quite sufficient to justify the captain in such an act. He was
therefore surprised, and not a little annoyed, when the captain
refused to fire at the native, and ordered the gun to be housed.
Of all the things, however, that afforded matter of amusement to
these savages, that which pleased Romata's visitor most was the
ship's pump. He never tired of examining it, and pumping up the
water. Indeed, so much was he taken up with this pump, that he
could not be prevailed on to return on shore, but sent a canoe to
fetch his favourite stool, on which he seated himself, and spent
the remainder of the day in pumping the bilge-water out of the
Next day the crew went ashore to cut sandal-wood, while the
captain, with one or two men, remained on board, in order to be
ready, if need be, with the brass gun, which was unhoused and
conspicuously elevated, with its capacious muzzle directed point
blank at the chief's house. The men were fully armed as usual; and
the captain ordered me to go with them, to assist in the work. I
was much pleased with this order, for it freed me from the
captain's company, which I could not now endure, and it gave me an
opportunity of seeing the natives.
As we wound along in single file through the rich fragrant groves
of banana, cocoa-nut, bread-fruit, and other trees, I observed that
there were many of the plum and banian trees, with which I had
become familiar on the Coral Island. I noticed also large
quantities of taro-roots, yams, and sweet potatoes, growing in
enclosures. On turning into an open glade of the woods, we came
abruptly upon a cluster of native houses. They were built chiefly
of bamboos, and were thatched with the large thick leaves of the
pandanus; but many of them had little more than a sloping roof and
three sides with an open front, being the most simple shelter from
the weather that could well be imagined. Within these, and around
them, were groups of natives - men, women, and children - who all
stood up to gaze at us as we marched along, followed by the party
of men whom the chief had sent to escort us. About half a mile
inland we arrived at the spot where the sandal-wood grew, and,
while the men set to work, I clambered up an adjoining hill to
observe the country.
About mid-day, the chief arrived with several followers, one of
whom carried a baked pig on a wooden platter, with yams and
potatoes on several plantain leaves, which he presented to the men,
who sat down under the shade of a tree to dine. The chief sat down
to dine also; but, to my surprise, instead of feeding himself, one
of his wives performed that office for him! I was seated beside
Bill, and asked him the reason of this.
"It is beneath his dignity, I believe, to feed himself," answered
Bill; "but I daresay he's not particular, except on great
occasions. They've a strange custom among them, Ralph, which is
called TABU, and they carry it to great lengths. If a man chooses
a particular tree for his god, the fruit o' that tree is tabued to
him; and if he eats it, he is sure to be killed by his people, and
eaten, of course, for killing means eating hereaway. Then, you see
that great mop o' hair on the chief's head? Well, he has a lot o'
barbers to keep it in order; and it's a law that whoever touches
the head of a living chief or the body of a dead one, his hands are
tabued; so, in that way, the barbers' hands are always tabued, and
they daren't use them for their lives, but have to be fed like big
babies, as they are, sure enough!"
"That's odd, Bill. But look there," said I, pointing to a man
whose skin was of a much lighter colour than the generality of the
natives. "I've seen a few of these light-skinned fellows among the
Fejeeans. They seem to me to be of quite a different race."
"So they are," answered Bill. "These fellows come from the Tongan
Islands, which lie a long way to the eastward. They come here to
build their big war-canoes; and as these take two, and sometimes
four years, to build, there's always some o' the brown-skins among
the black sarpents o' these islands."
"By the way, Bill," said I, "your mentioning serpents, reminds me
that I have not seen a reptile of any kind since I came to this
part of the world."
"No more there are any," said Bill, "if ye except the niggers
themselves, there's none on the islands, but a lizard or two and
some sich harmless things. But I never seed any myself. If
there's none on the land, however, there's more than enough in the
water, and that minds me of a wonderful brute they have here. But,
come, I'll show it to you." So saying, Bill arose, and, leaving
the men still busy with the baked pig, led me into the forest.
After proceeding a short distance we came upon a small pond of
stagnant water. A native lad had followed us, to whom we called
and beckoned him to come to us. On Bill saying a few words to him,
which I did not understand, the boy advanced to the edge of the
pond, and gave a low peculiar whistle. Immediately the water
became agitated and an enormous eel thrust its head above the
surface and allowed the youth to touch it. It was about twelve
feet long, and as thick round the body as a man's thigh.
"There," said Bill, his lip curling with contempt, "what do you
think of that for a god, Ralph? This is one o' their gods, and it
has been fed with dozens o' livin' babies already. How many more
it'll get afore it dies is hard to say."
"Babies?" said I, with an incredulous look
"Ay, babies," returned Bill. "Your soft-hearted folk at home would
say, 'Oh, horrible! impossible!' to that, and then go away as
comfortable and unconcerned as if their sayin' 'horrible!
impossible!' had made it a lie. But I tell you, Ralph, it's a
FACT. I've seed it with my own eyes the last time I was here, an'
mayhap if you stop a while at this accursed place, and keep a sharp
look out, you'll see it too. They don't feed it regularly with
livin' babies, but they give it one now and then as a treat. Bah!
you brute!' cried Bill, in disgust, giving the reptile a kick on
the snout with his heavy boot, that sent it sweltering back in
agony into its loathsome pool. I thought it lucky for Bill, indeed
for all of us, that the native youth's back happened to be turned
at the time, for I am certain that if the poor savages had come to
know that we had so rudely handled their god, we should have had to
fight our way back to the ship. As we retraced our steps I
questioned my companion further on this subject.
"How comes it, Bill, that the mothers allow such a dreadful thing
to be done?"
"Allow it? the mothers DO it! It seems to me that there's nothing
too fiendish or diabolical for these people to do. Why, in some of
the islands they have an institution called the AREOI, and the
persons connected with that body are ready for any wickedness that
mortal man can devise. In fact they stick at nothing; and one o'
their customs is to murder their infants the moment they are born.
The mothers agree to it, and the fathers do it. And the mildest
ways they have of murdering them is by sticking them through the
body with sharp splinters of bamboo, strangling them with their
thumbs, or burying them alive and stamping them to death while
under the sod."
I felt sick at heart while my companion recited these horrors.
"But it's a curious fact," he continued, after a pause, during
which we walked in silence towards the spot where we had left our
comrades, - "it's a curious fact, that wherever the missionaries
get a footin' all these things come to an end at once, an' the
savages take to doin' each other good, and singin' psalms, just
"God bless the missionaries!" said I, while a feeling of enthusiasm
filled my heart, so that I could speak with difficulty. "God bless
and prosper the missionaries till they get a footing in every
island of the sea!"
"I would say Amen to that prayer, Ralph, if I could," said Bill, in
a deep, sad voice; "but it would be a mere mockery for a man to ask
a blessing for others who dare not ask one for himself. But,
Ralph," he continued, "I've not told you half o' the abominations I
have seen durin' my life in these seas. If we pull long together,
lad, I'll tell you more; and if times have not changed very much
since I was here last, it's like that you'll have a chance o'
seeing a little for yourself before long."
The Sandal-wood party - Native children's games, somewhat
surprising - Desperate amusements suddenly and fatally brought to a
close - An old friend recognised - News - Romata's mad conduct
NEXT day the wood-cutting party went ashore again, and I
accompanied them as before. During the dinner hour I wandered into
the woods alone, being disinclined for food that day. I had not
rambled far when I found myself unexpectedly on the sea-shore,
having crossed a narrow neck of land which separated the native
village from a large bay. Here I found a party of the islanders
busy with one of their war-canoes, which was almost ready for
launching. I stood for a long time watching this party with great
interest, and observed that they fastened the timbers and planks to
each other very much in the same way in which I had seen Jack
fasten those of our little boat. But what surprised me most was
its immense length, which I measured very carefully, and found to
be a hundred feet long; and it was so capacious that it could have
held three hundred men. It had the unwieldy out-rigger and
enormously high stern-posts which I had remarked on the canoe that
came to us while I was on the Coral Island. Observing some boys
playing at games a short way along the beach, I resolved to go and
watch them; but as I turned from the natives who were engaged so
busily and cheerfully at their work, I little thought of the
terrible event that hung on the completion of that war-canoe.
Advancing towards the children, who were so numerous that I began
to think this must be the general play-ground of the village, I sat
down on a grassy bank under the shade of a plantain-tree, to watch
them. And a happier or more noisy crew I have never seen. There
were at least two hundred of them, both boys and girls, all of whom
were clad in no other garments than their own glossy little black
skins, except the maro, or strip of cloth round the loins of the
boys, and a very short petticoat or kilt on the girls. They did
not all play at the same game, but amused themselves in different
One band was busily engaged in a game exactly similar to our blind-
man's-buff. Another set were walking on stilts, which raised the
children three feet from the ground. They were very expert at this
amusement and seldom tumbled. In another place I observed a group
of girls standing together, and apparently enjoying themselves very
much; so I went up to see what they were doing, and found that they
were opening their eye-lids with their fingers till their eyes
appeared of an enormous size, and then thrusting pieces of straw
between the upper and lower lids, across the eye-ball, to keep them
in that position! This seemed to me, I must confess, a very
foolish as well as dangerous amusement. Nevertheless the children
seemed to be greatly delighted with the hideous faces they made. I
pondered this subject a good deal, and thought that if little
children knew how silly they seem to grown-up people when they make
faces, they would not be so fond of doing it. In another place
were a number of boys engaged in flying kites, and I could not help
wondering that some of the games of those little savages should be
so like to our own, although they had never seen us at play. But
the kites were different from ours in many respects, being of every
variety of shape. They were made of very thin cloth, and the boys
raised them to a wonderful height in the air by means of twine made
from the cocoa-nut husk. Other games there were, some of which
showed the natural depravity of the hearts of these poor savages,
and made me wish fervently that missionaries might be sent out to
them. But the amusement which the greatest number of the children
of both sexes seemed to take chief delight in, was swimming and
diving in the sea; and the expertness which they exhibited was
truly amazing. They seemed to have two principal games in the
water, one of which was to dive off a sort of stage which had been
erected near a deep part of the sea, and chase each other in the
water. Some of them went down to an extraordinary depth; others
skimmed along the surface, or rolled over and over like porpoises,
or diving under each other, came up unexpectedly and pulled each
other down by a leg or an arm. They never seemed to tire of this
sport, and, from the great heat of the water in the South Seas,
they could remain in it nearly all day without feeling chilled.
Many of these children were almost infants, scarce able to walk;
yet they staggered down the beach, flung their round fat little
black bodies fearlessly into deep water, and struck out to sea with
as much confidence as ducklings.
The other game to which I have referred was swimming in the surf.
But as this is an amusement in which all engage, from children of
ten to gray-headed men of sixty, and as I had an opportunity of
witnessing it in perfection the day following, I shall describe it
I suppose it was in honour of their guest that this grand swimming-
match was got up, for Romata came and told the captain that they
were going to engage in it, and begged him to "come and see."
"What sort of amusement is this surf swimming?" I inquired of Bill,
as we walked together to a part of the shore on which several
thousands of the natives were assembled.
"It's a very favourite lark with these 'xtr'or'nary critters,"
replied Bill, giving a turn to the quid of tobacco that invariably
bulged out his left cheek. "Ye see, Ralph, them fellows take to
the water as soon a'most as they can walk, an' long before they can
do that anything respectably, so that they are as much at home in
the sea as on the land. Well, ye see, I 'spose they found swimmin'
for miles out to sea, and divin' fathoms deep, wasn't exciting
enough, so they invented this game o' the surf. Each man and boy,
as you see, has got a short board or plank, with which he swims out
for a mile or more to sea, and then, gettin' on the top o' yon
thundering breaker, they come to shore on the top of it, yellin'
and screechin' like fiends. It's a marvel to me that they're not
dashed to shivers on the coral reef, for sure an' sartin am I that
if any o' us tried it, we wouldn't be worth the fluke of a broken
anchor after the wave fell. But there they go!"
As he spoke, several hundreds of the natives, amongst whom we were
now standing, uttered a loud yell, rushed down the beach, plunged
into the surf, and were carried off by the seething foam of the
At the point where we stood, the encircling coral reef joined the
shore, so that the magnificent breakers, which a recent stiff
breeze had rendered larger than usual, fell in thunder at the feet
of the multitudes who lined the beach. For some time the swimmers
continued to strike out to sea, breasting over the swell like
hundreds of black seals. Then they all turned, and, watching an
approaching billow, mounted its white crest, and, each laying his
breast on the short flat board, came rolling towards the shore,
careering on the summit of the mighty wave, while they and the
onlookers shouted and yelled with excitement. Just as the monster
wave curled in solemn majesty to fling its bulky length upon the
beach, most of the swimmers slid back into the trough behind;
others, slipping off their boards, seized them in their hands, and,
plunging through the watery waste, swam out to repeat the
amusement; but a few, who seemed to me the most reckless, continued
their career until they were launched upon the beach, and enveloped
in the churning foam and spray. One of these last came in on the
crest of the wave most manfully, and landed with a violent bound
almost on the spot where Bill and I stood. I saw by his peculiar
head-dress that he was the chief whom the tribe entertained as
their guest. The sea-water had removed nearly all the paint with
which his face had been covered; and, as he rose panting to his
feet, I recognised, to my surprise, the features of Tararo, my old
friend of the Coral Island!
Tararo at the same moment recognised me, and, advancing quickly,
took me round the neck and rubbed noses; which had the effect of
transferring a good deal of the moist paint from his nose to mine.
Then, recollecting that this was not the white man's mode of
salutation, he grasped me by the hand and shook it violently.
"Hallo, Ralph!" cried Bill, in surprise, "that chap seems to have
taken a sudden fancy to you, or he must be an old acquaintance."
"Right, Bill," I replied, "he is indeed an old acquaintance;" and I
explained in a few words that he was the chief whose party Jack and
Peterkin and I had helped to save.
Tararo having thrown away his surf-board, entered into an animated
conversation with Bill, pointing frequently during the course of it
to me; whereby I concluded he must be telling him about the
memorable battle, and the part we had taken in it. When he paused,
I begged of Bill to ask him about the woman Avatea, for I had some
hope that she might have come with Tararo on this visit. "And ask
him," said I, "who she is, for I am persuaded she is of a different
race from the Feejeeans." On the mention of her name the chief
frowned darkly, and seemed to speak with much anger.
"You're right, Ralph," said Bill, when the chief had ceased to
talk; "she's not a Feejee girl, but a Samoan. How she ever came to
this place the chief does not very clearly explain, but he says she
was taken in war, and that he got her three years ago, an' kept her
as his daughter ever since. Lucky for her, poor girl, else she'd
have been roasted and eaten like the rest."
"But why does Tararo frown and look so angry?" said I.
"Because the girl's somewhat obstinate, like most o' the sex, an'
won't marry the man he wants her to. It seems that a chief of some
other island came on a visit to Tararo and took a fancy to her, but
she wouldn't have him on no account, bein' already in love, and
engaged to a young chief whom Tararo hates, and she kicked up a
desperate shindy; so, as he was going on a war expedition in his
canoe, he left her to think about it, sayin' he'd be back in six
months or so, when he hoped she wouldn't be so obstropolous. This
happened just a week ago; an' Tararo says that if she's not ready
to go, when the chief returns, as his bride, she'll be sent to him
as a LONG PIG."
"As a long pig!" I exclaimed in surprise; "why what does he mean by
"He means somethin' very unpleasant," answered Bill with a frown.
"You see these blackguards eat men an' women just as readily as
they eat pigs; and, as baked pigs and baked men are very like each
other in appearance, they call men LONG pigs. If Avatea goes to
this fellow as a long pig, it's all up with her, poor thing."
"Is she on the island now?" I asked eagerly.
"No, she's at Tararo's island."
"And where does it lie?"
"About fifty or sixty miles to the south'ard o' this," returned
Bill; " but I - "
At this moment we were startled by the cry of "Mao! mao! - a shark!
a shark!" which was immediately followed by a shriek that rang
clear and fearfully loud above the tumult of cries that arose from
the savages in the water and on the land. We turned hastily
towards the direction whence the cry came, and had just time to
observe the glaring eye-balls of one of the swimmers as he tossed
his arms in the air. Next instant he was pulled under the waves.
A canoe was instantly launched, and the hand of the drowning man
was caught, but only half of his body was dragged from the maw of
the monster, which followed the canoe until the water became so
shallow that it could scarcely swim. The crest of the next billow
was tinged with red as it rolled towards the shore.
In most countries of the world this would have made a deep
impression on the spectators, but the only effect it had upon these
islanders was to make them hurry with all speed out of the sea,
lest a similar fate should befall some of the others; but, so
utterly reckless were they of human life, that it did not for a
moment suspend the progress of their amusements. It is true the
surf-swimming ended for that time somewhat abruptly, but they
immediately proceeded with other games. Bill told me that sharks
do not often attack the surf-swimmers, being frightened away by the
immense numbers of men and boys in the water, and by the shouting
and splashing that they make. "But," said he, "such a thing as you
have seen just now don't frighten them much. They'll be at it
again to-morrow or next day, just as if there wasn't a single shark
between Feejee and Nova Zembla."
After this the natives had a series of wrestling and boxing
matches; and being men of immense size and muscle, they did a good
deal of injury to each other, especially in boxing, in which not
only the lower orders, but several of the chiefs and priests
engaged. Each bout was very quickly terminated, for they did not
pretend to a scientific knowledge of the art, and wasted no time in
sparring, but hit straight out at each other's heads, and their
blows were delivered with great force. Frequently one of the
combatants was knocked down with a single blow; and one gigantic
fellow hit his adversary so severely that he drove the skin
entirely off his forehead. This feat was hailed with immense
applause by the spectators.
During these exhibitions, which were very painful to me, though I
confess I could not refrain from beholding them, I was struck with
the beauty of many of the figures and designs that were tattooed on
the persons of the chiefs and principal men. One figure, that
seemed to me very elegant, was that of a palm-tree tattooed on the
back of a man's leg, the roots rising, as it were, from under his
heel, the stem ascending the tendon of the ankle, and the graceful
head branching out upon the calf. I afterwards learned that this
process of tattooing is very painful, and takes long to do,
commencing at the age of ten, and being continued at intervals up
to the age of thirty. It is done by means of an instrument made of
bone, with a number of sharp teeth with which the skin is
punctured. Into these punctures a preparation made from the kernel
of the candle-nut, mixed with cocoa-nut oil, is rubbed, and the
mark thus made is indelible. The operation is performed by a class
of men whose profession it is, and they tattoo as much at a time,
as the person on whom they are operating can bear; which is not
much, the pain and inflammation caused by tattooing being very
great, sometimes causing death. Some of the chiefs were tattooed
with an ornamental stripe down the legs, which gave them the
appearance of being clad in tights. Others had marks round the
ankles and insteps, which looked like tight-fitting and elegant
boots. Their faces were also tattooed, and their breasts were very
profusely marked with every imaginable species of device, -
muskets, dogs, birds, pigs, clubs, and canoes, intermingled with
lozenges, squares, circles, and other arbitrary figures.
The women were not tattooed so much as the men, having only a few
marks on their feet and arms. But I must say, however
objectionable this strange practice may be, it nevertheless had
this good effect, that it took away very much from their appearance
Next day, while we were returning from the woods to our schooner,
we observed Romata rushing about in the neighbourhood of his house,
apparently mad with passion.
"Ah!" said Bill to me, "there he's at his old tricks again. That's
his way when he gets drink. The natives make a sort of drink o'
their own, and it makes him bad enough; but when he gets brandy
he's like a wild tiger. The captain, I suppose, has given him a
bottle, as usual, to keep him in good humour. After drinkin' he
usually goes to sleep, and the people know it well and keep out of
his way, for fear they should waken him. Even the babies are taken
out of ear-shot; for, when he's waked up, he rushes out just as you
see him now, and spears or clubs the first person he meets."
It seemed at the present time, however, that no deadly weapon had
been in his way, for the infuriated chief was raging about without
one. Suddenly he caught sight of an unfortunate man who was trying
to conceal himself behind a tree. Rushing towards him, Romata
struck him a terrible blow on the head, which knocked out the poor
man's eye and also dislocated the chief's finger. The wretched
creature offered no resistance; he did not even attempt to parry
the blow. Indeed, from what Bill said, I found that he might
consider himself lucky in having escaped with his life, which would
certainly have been forfeited had the chief been possessed of a
club at the time.
"Have these wretched creatures no law among themselves," said I,
"which can restrain such wickedness?"
"None," replied Bill. "The chief's word is law. He might kill and
eat a dozen of his own subjects any day for nothing more than his
own pleasure, and nobody would take the least notice of it."
This ferocious deed took place within sight of our party as we
wended our way to the beach, but I could not observe any other
expression on the faces of the men than that of total indifference
or contempt. It seemed to me a very awful thing that it should be
possible for men to come to such hardness of heart and callousness
to the sight of bloodshed and violence; but, indeed, I began to
find that such constant exposure to scenes of blood was having a
slight effect upon myself, and I shuddered when I came to think
that I, too, was becoming callous.
I thought upon this subject much that night while I walked up and
down the deck during my hours of watch; and I came to the
conclusion that if I, who hated, abhorred, and detested such bloody
deeds as I had witnessed within the last few weeks, could so soon
come to be less sensitive about them, how little wonder that these
poor ignorant savages, who were born and bred in familiarity
therewith, should think nothing of them at all, and should hold
human life in so very slight esteem.
Mischief brewing - My blood is made to run cold - Evil
consultations and wicked resolves - Bloody Bill attempts to do good
and fails - The attack - Wholesale murder - The flight - The
NEXT morning I awoke with a feverish brow and a feeling of deep
depression at my heart; and the more I thought on my unhappy fate,
the more wretched and miserable did I feel.
I was surrounded on all sides by human beings of the most dreadful
character, to whom the shedding of blood was mere pastime. On
shore were the natives, whose practices were so horrible that I
could not think of them without shuddering. On board were none but
pirates of the blackest dye, who, although not cannibals, were foul
murderers, and more blameworthy even than the savages, inasmuch as
they knew better. Even Bill, with whom I had, under the strange
circumstances of my lot, formed a kind of intimacy, was so fierce
in his nature as to have acquired the title of "Bloody" from his
vile companions. I felt very much cast down the more I considered
the subject and the impossibility of delivery, as it seemed to me,
at least for a long time to come. At last, in my feeling of utter
helplessness, I prayed fervently to the Almighty that he would
deliver me out of my miserable condition; and when I had done so I
felt some degree of comfort.
When the captain came on deck, before the hour at which the men
usually started for the woods, I begged of him to permit me to
remain aboard that day, as I did not feel well; but he looked at me
angrily, and ordered me, in a surly tone, to get ready to go on
shore as usual. The fact was that the captain had been out of
humour for some time past. Romata and he had had some differences,
and high words had passed between them, during which the chief had
threatened to send a fleet of his war-canoes, with a thousand men,
to break up and burn the schooner; whereupon the captain smiled
sarcastically, and going up to the chief gazed sternly in his face,
while he said, "I have only to raise my little finger just now, and
my big gun will blow your whole village to atoms in five minutes!"
Although the chief was a bold man, he quailed before the pirate's
glance and threat, and made no reply; but a bad feeling had been
raised and old sores had been opened.
I had, therefore, to go with the wood-cutters that day. Before
starting, however, the captain called me into the cabin, and said,
"Here, Ralph, I've got a mission for you, lad. That blackguard
Romata is in the dumps, and nothing will mollify him but a gift; so
do you go up to his house and give him these whales' teeth, with my
compliments. Take with you one of the men who can speak the
I looked at the gift in some surprise, for it consisted of six
white whales' teeth, and two of the same dyed bright red, which
seemed to me very paltry things. However, I did not dare to
hesitate or ask any questions; so, gathering them up, I left the
cabin and was soon on my way to the chief's house, accompanied by
Bill. On expressing my surprise at the gift, he said, -
"They're paltry enough to you or me, Ralph, but they're considered
of great value by them chaps. They're a sort o' cash among them.
The red ones are the most prized, one of them bein' equal to twenty
o' the white ones. I suppose the only reason for their bein'
valuable is that there ain't many of them, and they're hard to be
On arriving at the house we found Romata sitting on a mat, in the
midst of a number of large bales of native cloth and other
articles, which had been brought to him as presents from time to
time by inferior chiefs. He received us rather haughtily, but on
Bill explaining the nature of our errand he became very
condescending, and his eyes glistened with satisfaction when he
received the whales' teeth, although he laid them aside with an
assumption of kingly indifference.
"Go," said he, with a wave of the hand, - "go, tell your captain
that he may cut wood to-day, but not to-morrow. He must come
ashore, - I want to have a palaver with him."
As we left the house to return to the woods, Bill shook his head:
"There's mischief brewin' in that black rascal's head. I know him
of old. But what comes here?"
As he spoke, we heard the sound of laughter and shouting in the
wood, and presently there issued from it a band of savages, in the
midst of whom were a number of men bearing burdens on their
shoulders. At first I thought that these burdens were poles with
something rolled round them, the end of each pole resting on a
man's shoulder. But on a nearer approach I saw that they were
human beings, tied hand and foot, and so lashed to the poles that
they could not move. I counted twenty of them as they passed.
"More murder!" said Bill, in a voice that sounded between a hoarse
laugh and a groan.
"Surely they are not going to murder them?" said I, looking
anxiously into Bill's face.
"I don't know, Ralph," replied Bill, "what they're goin' to do with
them; but I fear they mean no good when they tie fellows up in that
As we continued our way towards the wood-cutters, I observed that
Bill looked anxiously over his shoulder, in the direction where the
procession had disappeared. At last he stopped, and turning
abruptly on his heel, said, -
"I tell ye what it is, Ralph, I must be at the bottom o' that
affair. Let us follow these black scoundrels and see what they're
goin' to do."
I must say I had no wish to pry further into their bloody
practices; but Bill seemed bent on it, so I turned and went. We
passed rapidly through the bush, being guided in the right
direction by the shouts of the savages. Suddenly there was a dead
silence, which continued for some time, while Bill and I
involuntarily quickened our pace until we were running at the top
of our speed across the narrow neck of land previously mentioned.
As we reached the verge of the wood, we discovered the savages
surrounding the large war-canoe, which they were apparently on the
point of launching. Suddenly the multitude put their united
strength to the canoe; but scarcely had the huge machine begun to
move, when a yell, the most appalling that ever fell upon my ear,
rose high above the shouting of the savages. It had not died away
when another and another smote upon my throbbing ear; and then I
saw that these inhuman monsters were actually launching their canoe
over the living bodies of their victims. But there was no pity in
the breasts of these men. Forward they went in ruthless
indifference, shouting as they went, while high above their voices
rang the dying shrieks of those wretched creatures, as, one after
another, the ponderous canoe passed over them, burst the eyeballs
from their sockets, and sent the life's blood gushing from their
mouths. Oh, reader, this is no fiction. I would not, for the sake
of thrilling you with horror, invent so terrible a scene. It was
witnessed. It is true; true as that accursed sin which has
rendered the human heart capable of such diabolical enormities!
When it was over I turned round and fell upon the grass with a deep
groan; but Bill seized me by the arm, and lifting me up as if I had
been a child, cried, -
"Come along, lad; let's away!" - and so, staggering and stumbling
over the tangled underwood, we fled from the fatal spot.
During the remainder of that day I felt as if I were in a horrible
dream. I scarce knew what was said to me, and was more than once
blamed by the men for idling my time. At last the hour to return
aboard came. We marched down to the beach, and I felt relief for
the first time when my feet rested on the schooner's deck.
In the course of the evening I overheard part of a conversation
between the captain and the first mate, which startled me not a
little. They were down in the cabin, and conversed in an under-
tone, but the sky-light being off, I overheard every word that was
"I don't half like it," said the mate. "It seems to me that we'll
only have hard fightin' and no pay."
"No pay!" repeated the captain, in a voice of suppressed anger.
"Do you call a good cargo all for nothing no pay?"
"Very true," returned the mate; "but we've got the cargo aboard.
Why not cut your cable and take French leave o' them? What's the
use o' tryin' to lick the blackguards when it'll do us no manner o'
"Mate," said the captain, in a low voice, "you talk like a fresh-
water sailor. I can only attribute this shyness to some strange
delusion; for surely" (his voice assumed a slightly sneering tone
as he said this) "surely I am not to suppose that YOU have become
soft-hearted! Besides, you are wrong in regard to the cargo being
aboard; there's a good quarter of it lying in the woods, and that
blackguard chief knows it and won't let me take it off. He defied
us to do our worst, yesterday."
"Defied us! did he?' cried the mate, with a bitter laugh. "Poor
"And yet he seems not so contemptible but that you are afraid to
"Who said I was afraid?" growled the mate, sulkily. "I'm as ready
as any man in the ship. But, captain, what is it that you intend
"I intend to muffle the sweeps and row the schooner up to the head
of the creek there, from which point we can command the pile of
sandal-wood with our gun. Then I shall land with all the men
except two, who shall take care of the schooner and be ready with
the boat to take us off. We can creep through the woods to the
head of the village, where these cannibals are always dancing round
their suppers of human flesh, and if the carbines of the men are
loaded with a heavy charge of buck-shot, we can drop forty or fifty
at the first volley. After that the thing will be easy enough.
The savages will take to the mountains in a body, and we shall take
what we require, up anchor, and away."
To this plan the mate at length agreed. As he left the cabin I
heard the captain say, -
"Give the men an extra glass of grog, and don't forget the buck-
The reader may conceive the horror with which I heard this
murderous conversation. I immediately repeated it to Bill, who
seemed much perplexed about it. At length he said, -
"I'll tell you what I'll do, Ralph: I'll swim ashore after dark
and fix a musket to a tree not far from the place where we'll have
to land, and I'll tie a long string to the trigger, so that when
our fellows cross it they'll let it off, and so alarm the village
in time to prevent an attack, but not in time to prevent us gettin'
back to the boat; so, master captain," added Bill with a smile that
for the first time seemed to me to be mingled with good-natured
cheerfulness, "you'll be baulked at least for once in your life by
After it grew dark, Bill put this resolve in practice. He slipped
over the side with a musket in his left hand, while with his right
he swam ashore and entered the woods. He soon returned, having
accomplished his purpose, and got on board without being seen, - I
being the only one on deck.
When the hour of midnight approached the men were mustered on deck,
the cable was cut and the muffled sweeps got out. These sweeps
were immensely large oars, each requiring a couple of men to work
it. In a few minutes we entered the mouth of the creek, which was
indeed the mouth of a small river, and took about half an hour to
ascend it, although the spot where we intended to land was not more
than six hundred yards from the mouth, because there was a slight
current against us, and the mangroves which narrowed the creek,
impeded the rowers in some places. Having reached the spot, which
was so darkened by overhanging trees that we could see with
difficulty, a small kedge anchor attached to a thin line was let
softly down over the stern.
"Now, lads," whispered the captain, as he walked along the line of
men, who were all armed to the teeth, "don't be in a hurry, aim
low, and don't waste your first shots."
He then pointed to the boat, into which the men crowded in silence.
There was no room to row, but oars were not needed, as a slight
push against the side of the schooner sent the boat gliding to the
"There's no need of leaving two in the boat," whispered the mate,
as the men stepped out; "we shall want all our hands. Let Ralph
The captain assented, and ordered me to stand in readiness with the
boat-hook, to shove ashore at a moment's notice if they should
return, or to shove off if any of the savages should happen to
approach. He then threw his carbine into the hollow of his arm and
glided through the bushes followed by his men. With a throbbing
head I awaited the result of our plan. I knew the exact locality
where the musket was placed, for Bill had described it to me, and I
kept my straining eyes fixed upon the spot. But no sound came, and
I began to fear that either they had gone in another direction or
that Bill had not fixed the string properly. Suddenly I heard a
faint click, and observed one or two bright sparks among the
bushes. My heart immediately sank within me, for I knew at once
that the trigger had indeed been pulled but that the priming had
not caught. The plan, therefore, had utterly failed. A feeling of
dread now began to creep over me as I stood in the boat, in that
dark, silent spot, awaiting the issue of this murderous expedition.
I shuddered as I glanced at the water that glided past like a dark
reptile. I looked back at the schooner, but her hull was just
barely visible, while her tapering masts were lost among the trees
which overshadowed her. Her lower sails were set, but so thick was
the gloom that they were quite invisible.
Suddenly I heard a shot. In a moment a thousand voices raised a
yell in the village; again the cry rose on the night air, and was
followed by broken shouts as of scattered parties of men bounding
into the woods. Then I heard another shout loud and close at hand.
It was the voice of the captain cursing the man who had fired the
premature shot. Then came the order, "Forward," followed by the
wild hurrah of our men, as they charged the savages. Shots now
rang in quick succession, and at last a loud volley startled the
echoes of the woods. It was followed by a multitude of wild
shrieks, which were immediately drowned in another "hurrah" from
the men; the distance of the sound proving that they were driving
their enemies before them towards the sea.
While I was listening intently to these sounds, which were now
mingled in confusion, I was startled by the rustling of the leaves
not far from me. At first I thought it was a party of savages who
had observed the schooner, but I was speedily undeceived by
observing a body of natives - apparently several hundreds, as far
as I could guess in the uncertain light - bounding through the
woods towards the scene of battle. I saw at once that this was a
party who had out-flanked our men, and would speedily attack them
in the rear. And so it turned out, for, in a short time, the
shouts increased ten-fold, and among them I thought I heard a
death-cry uttered by voices familiar to my ear.
At length the tumult of battle ceased, and, from the cries of
exultation that now arose from the savages, I felt assured that our
men had been conquered. I was immediately thrown into dreadful
consternation. What was I now to do? To be taken by the savages
was too horrible to be thought of; to flee to the mountains was
hopeless, as I should soon be discovered; and to take the schooner
out of the creek without assistance was impossible. I resolved,
however, to make the attempt, as being my only hope, and was on the
point of pushing off when my hand was stayed and my blood chilled
by an appalling shriek in which I recognised the voice of one of
the crew. It was succeeded by a shout from the savages. Then came
another, and another shriek of agony, making my ears to tingle, as
I felt convinced they were murdering the pirate crew in cold blood.
With a bursting heart and my brain whirling as if on fire, I seized
the boat-hook to push from shore when a man sprang from the bushes.
"Stop! Ralph, stop! - there now, push off," he cried, and bounded
into the boat so violently as nearly to upset her. It was Bill's
voice! In another moment we were on board, - the boat made fast,
the line of the anchor cut, and the sweeps run out. At the first
stroke of Bill's giant arm the schooner was nearly pulled ashore,
for in his haste he forgot that I could scarcely move the unwieldy
oar. Springing to the stern he lashed the rudder in such a
position as that, while it aided me, it acted against him, and so
rendered the force of our strokes nearly equal. The schooner now
began to glide quickly down the creek, but before we reached its
mouth, a yell from a thousand voices on the bank told that we were
discovered. Instantly a number of the savages plunged into the
water and swam towards us; but we were making so much way that they
could not overtake us. One, however, an immensely powerful man,
succeeded in laying hold of the cut rope that hung from the stern,
and clambered quickly upon deck. Bill caught sight of him the
instant his head appeared above the taffrail. But he did not cease
to row, and did not appear even to notice the savage until he was
within a yard of him; then, dropping the sweep, he struck him a
blow on the forehead with his clenched fist that felled him to the
deck. Lifting him up he hurled him overboard and resumed the oar.
But now a greater danger awaited us, for the savages had outrun us
on the bank and were about to plunge into the water ahead of the
schooner. If they succeeded in doing so our fate was sealed. For
one moment Bill stood irresolute. Then, drawing a pistol from his
belt, he sprang to the brass gun, held the pan of his pistol over
the touch-hole and fired. The shot was succeeded by the hiss of
the cannon's priming, then the blaze and the crashing thunder of
the monstrous gun burst upon the savages with such deafening roar
that it seemed as if their very mountains had been rent asunder.
This was enough. The moment of surprise and hesitation caused by
the unwonted sound, gave us time to pass the point; a gentle
breeze, which the dense foliage had hitherto prevented us from
feeling, bulged out our sails; the schooner bent before it, and the
shouts of the disappointed savages grew fainter and fainter in the
distance as we were slowly wafted out to sea.
Reflections - The wounded man - The squall - True consolation -
THERE is a power of endurance in human beings, both in their bodies
and in their minds, which, I have often thought, seems to be
wonderfully adapted and exactly proportioned to the circumstances
in which individuals may happen to be placed, - a power which, in
most cases, is sufficient to carry a man through and over every
obstacle that may happen to be thrown in his path through life, no
matter how high or how steep the mountain may be, but which often
forsakes him the moment the summit is gained, the point of
difficulty passed; and leaves him prostrated, with energies gone,
nerves unstrung, and a feeling of incapacity pervading the entire
frame that renders the most trifling effort almost impossible.
During the greater part of that day I had been subjected to severe
mental and much physical excitement, which had almost crushed me
down by the time I was relieved from duty in the course of the
evening. But when the expedition, whose failure has just been
narrated, was planned, my anxieties and energies had been so
powerfully aroused that I went through the protracted scenes of
that terrible night without a feeling of the slightest fatigue. My
mind and body were alike active and full of energy. No sooner was
the last thrilling fear of danger past, however, than my faculties
were utterly relaxed; and, when I felt the cool breezes of the
Pacific playing around my fevered brow, and heard the free waves
rippling at the schooner's prow, as we left the hated island behind
us, my senses forsook me and I fell in a swoon upon the deck.
From this state I was quickly aroused by Bill, who shook me by the
arm, saying, -
"Hallo! Ralph, boy, rouse up, lad, we're safe now. Poor thing, I
believe he's fainted." And raising me in his arms he laid me on
the folds of the gaff-top-sail, which lay upon the deck near the
tiller. "Here, take a drop o' this, it'll do you good, my boy," he
added, in a voice of tenderness which I had never heard him use
before, while he held a brandy-flask to my lips.
I raised my eyes gratefully, as I swallowed a mouthful; next moment
my head sank heavily upon my arm and I fell fast asleep. I slept
long, for when I awoke the sun was a good way above the horizon. I
did not move on first opening my eyes, as I felt a delightful
sensation of rest pervading me, and my eyes were riveted on and
charmed with the gorgeous splendour of the mighty ocean, that burst
upon my sight. It was a dead calm; the sea seemed a sheet of
undulating crystal, tipped and streaked with the saffron hues of
sunrise, which had not yet merged into the glowing heat of noon;
and there was a deep calm in the blue dome above, that was not
broken even by the usual flutter of the sea-fowl. How long I would
have lain in contemplation of this peaceful scene I know not, but
my mind was recalled suddenly and painfully to the past and the
present by the sight of Bill, who was seated on the deck at my feet
with his head reclining, as if in sleep, on his right arm, which
rested on the tiller. As he seemed to rest peacefully I did not
mean to disturb him, but the slight noise I made in raising myself
on my elbow caused him to start and look round.
"Well, Ralph, awake at last, my boy; you have slept long and
soundly," he said, turning towards me.
On beholding his countenance I sprang up in anxiety. He was deadly
pale, and his hair, which hung in dishevelled locks over his face,
was clotted with blood. Blood also stained his hollow cheeks and
covered the front of his shirt, which, with the greater part of
dress, was torn and soiled with mud.
"Oh, Bill!" said I, with deep anxiety, "what is the matter with
you? You are ill. You must have been wounded."
"Even so, lad," said Bill in a deep soft voice, while he extended
his huge frame on the couch from which I had just risen. "I've got
an ugly wound, I fear, and I've been waiting for you to waken, to
ask you to get me a drop o' brandy and a mouthful o' bread from the
cabin lockers. You seemed to sleep so sweetly, Ralph, that I
didn't like to disturb you. But I don't feel up to much just now."
I did not wait till he had done talking, but ran below immediately,
and returned in a few seconds with a bottle of brandy and some
broken biscuit. He seemed much refreshed after eating a few
morsels and drinking a long draught of water mingled with a little
of the spirits. Immediately afterwards he fell asleep, and I
watched him anxiously until he awoke, being desirous of knowing the
nature and extent of his wound.
"Ha!" he exclaimed, on awaking suddenly, after a slumber of an
hour, "I'm the better of that nap, Ralph; I feel twice the man I
was;" and he attempted to rise, but sank back again immediately
with a deep groan.
"Nay, Bill you must not move, but lie still while I look at your
wound. I'll make a comfortable bed for you here on deck, and get
you some breakfast. After that you shall tell me how you got it.
Cheer up, Bill," I added, seeing that he turned his head away;
"you'll be all right in a little, and I'll be a capital nurse to
you though I'm no doctor."
I then left him, and lighted a fire in the caboose. While it was
kindling, I went to the steward's pantry and procured the materials
for a good breakfast, with which, in little more than half an hour,
I returned to my companion. He seemed much better, and smiled
kindly on me as I set before him a cup of coffee and a tray with
several eggs and some bread on it.
"Now then, Bill," said I, cheerfully, sitting down beside him on
the deck, "let's fall to. I'm very hungry myself, I can tell you;
but - I forgot - your wound," I added, rising; "let me look at it."
I found that the wound was caused by a pistol shot in the chest.
It did not bleed much, and, as it was on the right side, I was in
hopes that it might not be very serious. But Bill shook his head.
"However," said he, "sit down, Ralph, and I'll tell you all about
"You see, after we left the boat an' began to push through the
bushes, we went straight for the line of my musket, as I had
expected; but by some unlucky chance it didn't explode, for I saw
the line torn away by the men's legs, and heard the click o' the
lock; so I fancy the priming had got damp and didn't catch. I was
in a great quandary now what to do, for I couldn't concoct in my
mind, in the hurry, any good reason for firin' off my piece. But
they say necessity's the mother of invention; so, just as I was
givin' it up and clinchin' my teeth to bide the worst o't, and take
what should come, a sudden thought came into my head. I stepped
out before the rest, seemin' to be awful anxious to be at the
savages, tripped my foot on a fallen tree, plunged head foremost
into a bush, an', ov coorse, my carbine exploded! Then came such a
screechin' from the camp as I never heard in all my life. I rose
at once, and was rushin' on with the rest when the captain called a
"'You did that a-purpose, you villain!' he said, with a tremendous
oath, and, drawin' a pistol from his belt, let fly right into my
breast. I fell at once, and remembered no more till I was startled
and brought round by the most awful yell I ever heard in my life,
except, maybe, the shrieks o' them poor critters that were crushed
to death under yon big canoe. Jumpin' up, I looked round, and,
through the trees, saw a fire gleamin' not far off, the light o'
which showed me the captain and men tied hand and foot, each to a
post, and the savages dancin' round them like demons. I had scarce
looked for a second, when I saw one o' them go up to the captain
flourishing a knife, and, before I could wink, he plunged it into
his breast, while another yell, like the one that roused me, rang
upon my ear. I didn't wait for more, but, bounding up, went
crashing through the bushes into the woods. The black fellows
caught sight of me, however, but not in time to prevent me jumpin'
into the boat, as you know."
Bill seemed to be much exhausted after this recital, and shuddered
frequently during the narrative, so I refrained from continuing the
subject at that time, and endeavoured to draw his mind to other
"But now, Bill," said I, "it behoves us to think about the future,
and what course of action we shall pursue. Here we are, on the
wide Pacific, in a well-appointed schooner, which is our own, - at
least no one has a better claim to it than we have, - and the world
lies before us. Moreover, here comes a breeze, so we must make up
our minds which way to steer."
"Ralph, boy," said my companion, "it matters not to me which way we
go. I fear that my time is short now. Go where you will. I'm
"Well then, Bill, I think we had better steer to the Coral Island,
and see what has become of my dear old comrades, Jack and Peterkin.
I believe the island has no name, but the captain once pointed it
out to me on the chart, and I marked it afterwards; so, as we know
pretty well our position just now, I think I can steer to it.
Then, as to working the vessel, it is true I cannot hoist the sails
single-handed, but luckily we have enough of sail set already, and
if it should come on to blow a squall, I could at least drop the
peaks of the main and fore sails, and clew them up partially
without help, and throw her head close into the wind, so as to keep
her all shaking till the violence of the squall is past. And if we
have continued light breezes, I'll rig up a complication of blocks
and fix them to the top-sail halyards, so that I shall be able to
hoist the sails without help. 'Tis true I'll require half a day to
hoist them, but we don't need to mind that. Then I'll make a sort
of erection on deck to screen you from the sun, Bill; and if you
can only manage to sit beside the tiller and steer for two hours
every day, so as to let me get a nap, I'll engage to let you off
duty all the rest of the twenty-four hours. And if you don't feel
able for steering, I'll lash the helm and heave to, while I get you
your breakfasts and dinners; and so we'll manage famously, and soon
reach the Coral Island."
Bill smiled faintly as I ran on in this strain.
"And what will you do," said he, "if it comes on to blow a storm?"
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